Mary Mulhern said Tuesday she will soon file to run for the Florida Congressional District 13 seat in Pinellas County occupied by Republican incumbent David Jolly.
The former Tampa city councilwoman floated the idea 11 days ago of a possible run for the seat, held more than 42 years by C.W. Bill Young, until his death in late 2013. She said June 11 that she had been meeting in recent weeks with many Democratic Party members in Pinellas County, including those who might be considering a run for office. They included St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Darden Rice, who told SaintPetersBlog and The Tampa Tribune on Monday night that she was now contemplating a candidacy herself.
Mulhern, 56, expressed surprise Tuesday about Rice’s announcement. Rice left her a message Monday night to give her a heads up that she’s contemplating her own candidacy, but the two didn’tt speak. However, Mulhern said the two women previously met June 9.
“I told her that I was looking at running and just wanted to get her advice,” Mulhern said Tuesday. “I also asked her first off if she had any interest in running and she said no, she was not going to.”
Rice says that when the two did meet for coffee, she was “blindsided” to hear Mulhern discuss the idea of moving from Tampa to St. Petersburg to run for the seat.
“I’ve been pretty much doing my own thing, not paying too much close attention to the numbers in the race,” Rice recounted. “I left the meeting, called around, and got a better picture that the race might be better open than we think it is, and that led me to my process to re-evaluate my strengths as a profile as a candidate.
“It’s well within my purview to change my mind about what I want to do,” Rice said, saying she’ll make her final decision sometime next month.
One advantage Rice has over Mulhern is that the St. Petersburg council member lives in the district. Mulhern resides in South Tampa, but said she will soon be selling her house to move to the district, which encompasses much of Pinellas County, except the northern part of the county and parts of downtown and south St. Petersburg.
“The situation is that it’s not easy to sell and buy a house,” Mulhern said. “We’re talking to Realtors, but we haven’t put this house on the market. We wanted to be 100 percent. We’ll definitely be selling this house and buying (in Pinellas County).”
Although Rice told the Tribune that she’s been in contact with Emily’s List, the D.C.-based political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates, Mulhern said she, too, spoke with the group while in Washington.
Mulhern was on Tampa City Council from 2007 until this past April, when she was term-limited out of office after two four-year terms. Her election victory in ’07 was considered a major upset when she was heavily outspent by the incumbent, Shawn Harrison. She won by a narrow 51-49 percent margin. It was much different in 2011 when she cruised to a victory in the primary election over two candidates. She won in spite of speculation her outspoken opposition to a panhandling ban against the homeless would hurt her candidacy. If anything, it seemed to strengthen it.
She worked on a number of progressive policies in office, and is in many ways similar to Rice in terms of political philosophy. Mulhern is aware that she could face the same charges of being a “carpetbagger” in running for the seat that dogged Alex Sink‘s unsuccessful attempt to win the seat during the March 2014 special election. The Democratic Campaign Congressional Committee plucked another Hillsborough resident, Ed Jany, to be the party’s nominee last fall, but he dropped out shortly after entering the contest.
Rice said the track record isn’t very good when it comes to Hillsborough County Democrats trying to win the seat. “I would sincerely caution anyone to think that moving here from out of the county is a smart choice,” she said.
Meanwhile, word began circulating Monday night that somehow the only previously declared Democrat in the race, Eric Lynn, might drop out. Lynn’s finance manager, Tom Alte, laughed when asked about it Tuesday and said it was absolutely not true.
Lynn is making one of his first public appearances as a candidate at 6:30 Tuesday night, holding a public meet-and-greet at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 4145 34 St. N. in St. Petersburg.
Jolly has not declared for certain that he will be running for re-election for the seat. He has said he will decide in July whether to run again for the seat or instead seek the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate. So far only one major candidate, Jacksonville Tea Party-backed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, has officially declared for the seat.
Florida Politics tried to contact Susan McGrath, Pinellas County Democratic Party chairwoman, to get her thoughts on the race, but she was unavailable for comment.